Internet service restored on Tonga about a month after deadly volcanic eruption

Australian military personnel help clear away debris on Atata Island, Tonga, on February 11 as part of Operation Tonga Assist 2022 following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano and subsequent tsunami. Photo by Pois Christopher Szumlanski/Australian Defense Force via EPA-EFE

Feb. 22 (UPI) — Tonga restored communications with the rest of the world on Tuesday, about a month after a volcanic eruption and tsunami cut cables and isolated the island in the South Pacific.

Officials said that an underwater cable that supplies Internet service to the island — which was severed during the Jan. 15 eruption — was reconnected Tuesday to the main island of Tongatapu.

For the first time in weeks, people on the island were able to contact relatives overseas and read news online

A plume of ash is seen during an eruption of Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano from a U.S. satellite on January 15. The eruption and tsunami were blamed for at least five deaths. Photo by NOAA/UPI

Officials said the Tonga Cable System suffered a series of cuts, one spanning nearly 50 miles. Repair ships have been working to reconnect the undersea cable since early this month. Workers at one point gave up searching for a missing portion of the line.

“We suspect it’s buried in an avalanche,” James Panuve, CEO of Tonga Cable told Matangi Tonga Online.

Officials said they finally tracked down two ends of the cable and reconnected the link to Fiji.

Workers still have to repair the domestic side of the Tonga Cable, which could take months depending on the damage, James said.

Communications in Vava’u are still down, but utility officials said they hope to get them back online via satellite sometime this week.

Last month, Australia’s Telstra and New Zealand’s Spark helped with satellite hardware and terminals to restore intermittent data service in Tonga. Officials said after the eruption that they expected communications to be down for weeks and advised residents to be patient for restoration.

The eruption and tsunami were blamed for at least five deaths and more than a dozen injuries.

Tonga is a small country comprised of an archipelago of 169 islands in the South Pacific. It is home to about 100,000 people.

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